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Profits and Employee Bonuses: Mastering the Delicate Balance

The question of whether or not to give bonuses to employees is one that painting contractors, along with many other business owners, grapple with. While rewarding good work seems like a no-brainer, the truth is that the balance is trickier to achieve than it might initially appear. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of bonus systems and their implications on a company's financial health.

1. The Problem at Hand

Having worked with many contractors2, one observation stands out: every time I start working with a new client who already has a bonus plan in place, their business is invariably experiencing financial difficulties. From my perspective, not a single company I've come across has successfully implemented a bonus structure that benefits both the business and the employees.

Don't get me wrong, the intention behind the bonuses—to take care of the team—is honorable and necessary. However, if this act of appreciation jeopardizes the financial stability of the business, it becomes a problem. The goal should be to find a balance between showing appreciation to your team and ensuring the business remains profitable.

In the following sections, we'll cover three essential components that should be in place before you even start considering a bonus program for your painting contracting business.

2. Solid Bookkeeping

The first crucial step is establishing a solid bookkeeping system. This process may seem tedious or unnecessary, especially if you're just starting your business, but it is crucial for understanding the financial health of your business.

As a painting contractor, you need to have accurate, up-to-date books to make sound financial decisions. Tools like QuickBooks can be extremely useful for this. You might think you can handle this yourself to save some money, but the reality is, without proper training, you may end up making costly errors. It's better to hire a professional bookkeeper, preferably one experienced with contractors and construction companies.

A competent bookkeeper can ensure that your accounts are accurate and updated monthly. They can reconcile your credit card statements, vendor invoices, and other business-related expenses, giving you a clear picture of your company's financial health. If your books are not up-to-date, it's impossible to make informed decisions about bonuses or any other financial commitments.

So before you start planning a bonus scheme, ensure your bookkeeping is in order.

3. Job Costing

Once your books are in order, the next thing to consider is job costing. This practice involves comparing the estimated cost of a job to the actual cost once the job is completed.

Here's how it works: before you start a job, you estimate the cost, considering all the possible expenses, including labor, materials, and other overhead costs. When the job is completed, you calculate the actual cost. If everything goes according to plan, your estimated and actual costs should match or, even better, you might come in under budget.

However, when you're not tracking your job costs, there's a risk you'll overspend without realizing it. For example, you may not have planned for overtime, but when you review your job cost, you realize that there were 18 hours of overtime per person that you didn't account for. This lack of foresight can seriously affect your profit margins.

Not only is job costing crucial for your financial health, but it's also essential when considering bonuses. After all, if you're paying bonuses based on the performance of a job and you don't accurately track job costs, you could be unknowingly driving your business into the red. Therefore, it is recommended that within a week of a job's completion, you should have a full job costing report done.

4. Clear Scope of Work

Last but not least, it's essential to provide your team with a clear scope of work. This means that each job should have outlined expectations, including timelines and benchmarks. Without this, you can't accurately determine if someone is going above and beyond deserving of a bonus or if they are simply meeting expectations.

Bonuses should be for exceptional performance, not for just doing one's job. In many cases, contractors end up giving out bonuses without having set clear expectations, which can be detrimental to the business's financial health.

5. Finding the Sweet Spot

It's important to remember that bonuses should only be given if the business is exceeding its original goals. For instance, if you set a net profit goal for the year, any bonuses should come from profits above this goal.

Rather than focusing on bonuses, consider creating a positive work culture, paying competitive wages, and ensuring that the business's financial health is strong. This can be more beneficial for your employees in the long run as it provides a stable working environment and consistent work.


Bonuses can be a great tool for motivation and appreciation if done right. However, without proper bookkeeping, job costing, and clear scope of work, they can end up doing more harm than good.

As a painting contractor, focusing on these critical elements will help you find that sweet spot between taking care of your people and ensuring your business stays on the path to success. And if you find that you are exceeding your goals and have a strong financial foundation, then rewarding your employees with bonuses can be the icing on the cake.

So, ensure that your business’s finances and processes are in good shape, and only then should you consider implementing a bonus system. This way, you ensure the longevity and success of both your business and your employees.

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